BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has reissued a passport to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the foreign ministry said on Friday, the latest move by the government led by his sister in support of the country's most famous fugitive.
Thaksin, who lives in Dubai and is on the run from a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power, was no longer considered a danger to Thailand and a passport was sent six weeks ago to the Thai embassy in the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said.
A legal article that had been invoked by the previous government to rescind Thaksin's passport two years ago had been overturned by Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul, he added.
"Given the change in government and circumstances, the foreign ministry used the same article ... and no longer considers him a threat to the country," Thani said.
"Mr. Thaksin applied for a passport on October 25 and a passport was issued later that month."
Thaksin's supporters are keen for his return and he has said he wants to go back but he would face arrest upon arrival.
The decision to reissue Thaksin's Thai passport is largely symbolic since he has travelled with ease over the past two years on passports issued by Nicaragua and Montenegro.
The twice-elected tycoon was aggressively hunted by the previous government, but his fortunes changed in July when a party stacked with his allies and led by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was swept to power in an election landslide.
But Thaksin remains a divisive figure with powerful enemies among Thailand's military and conservative elite. The government could be entering dangerous territory by helping him out and not pursuing him for his 2008 conviction for helping an illegal land purchase by his former wife.
Yingluck's government has faced a torrent of criticism for going soft on Thaksin and tentative moves to find a way to bring him home a free man have led to threats of the kind of crippling anti-protests that helped topple pro-Thaksin governments in 2006 and 2008.
Surapong earlier on Friday appeared to dodge questions about whether Thaksin had indeed been granted a passport and denied meeting him in Dubai.
"I don't appreciate the media taking different aspects of the story, piecing them together and then re-telling them to the public because it is all false," he told a news conference.
"Today we have wasted enough time on this matter."
(Reporting by Martin Petty and Natnicha Chuwiruch; Editing by)